Kobe Bryant. Rides into the sunset. Photo by Adam Zaman of Hoops Talk.
The mere mention of Kobe Bryant to a casual basketball fan would get so many reactions and associations. I, for one, once regarded Kobe as one cocky son of a b*tch, a ballhog, selfish, a once-upon-a-time rapist, The Black Mamba, and a champion. But above all that, Kobe can be described as a great competitor and the closest thing to Michael Jordan this generation ever had.
Kobe’s climb to success and immortality began in high school when he led Lower Merion to championships. By that time his HS coach saw how hardworking he is, the classic “first one in and last one out.” Most of the time, he’s the first one in the gym and the last one to leave after practice was over.
NBA Rookies Class of 1996: (L-R standing) Marcus Camby, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jermaine O’neal, Steve Nash, John Wallace, and Antoine Walker (L-R sitting) Ray Allen, Kerry Kittles and Samaki Walker
By the end of his senior year in HS which included a date with then R & B singer Brandy, Kobe decided to join the NBA, obviously following his dad’s footsteps (Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant who once played for the Philadephia 76ers). Kobe would be joined by future all-stars and very good role players in that said draft. In my opinion, the ’96 Draft bridged the gap between the ’90’s kids and the old-time viewers, and made the NBA the global phenomenon that it is today.
Picked as the 13th pick of the draft by the Charlotte Hornets, Kobe never had a chance to take his (raw) talent to the Hornets because he was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for veteran center Vlade Divac. According to stories, Jerry West wanted Kobe so much after seeing Kobe destroy draft prospect Dontae Jones one-on-one during the Rookie Combine (tryouts). Kobe would then join the retooled Lakers who, at that time, just drafted Derek Fisher, and had players such as Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, and free-agent signee Shaquille O’neal. The future seemed set.
By this time, some of my friends and classmates were going gaga over the Lakers. Plus, the fact that Kobe was voted as an All-Star a year later made me raise my eyebrows, at that time, I thought he was overrated. After all, he was lackluster in the 1997 Playoffs against the Jazz, throwing bricks and air balls in Game 5.
Kobe Bryant, Game 5 1997 NBA Playoffs
Seeing those air balls and missed shots made me smile, I mean, I was a Kobe hater. I laughed my ass off with every air ball he threw. (But to be fair, watching it right now, his shooting form seems awkward and his release is a piece of shit.) Those air balls perhaps were the turning point of Kobe’s career, a lightning rod, similar to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls getting KO’d by the Detroit Pistons in 1988, 1989 and 1990. The Lakers were once again humiliated by the Jazz this time in the Western Conference Finals, though.
During the lockout shortened season of 1998-1999, the Lakers traded Elden Campbell and Kobe’s mentor Eddie Jones for Glen Rice, BJ Armstrong, and JR Reid. The message was clear: the Lakers management was set to make Kobe Bryant as their franchise shooting guard. While the regulars produced wins, they found themselves eliminated by eventual NBA Champions The San Antonio Spurs.
By the 1999-2000 season, they were primed and ready to make a run for the title. Shaq and Kobe led the Lakers all the way to the Finals. Kobe was also instrumental in beating the Portland Trailblazers in Game 7, and this further fueled my absolute hatred and contempt for the guy. His showing in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Indiana Pacers despite a busted ankle, especially in overtime when he literally dragged the Lakers, was Jordan-like. Kids compared him to Jordan, even worse, I hated that “fact”. The Lakers would go on to win the NBA Finals in 2000, 2001 and 2002, validating Shaq and Kobe as NBA superstars.
During the Laker Dynasty years, an on-and-off-again relationship between Kobe and Shaq started. I mean, they argued like a married couple, they argued who should be the Alpha male for the Lakers. This feud also marked the end of the Laker dominance for the first half of the last decade and was punctuated by their upset loss to the Pistons back in 2004, at which time the whole team feuded, with Kobe allegedly hitting on Karl Malone’s wife. Shaq packed his bags and signed with Miami, and the once reloaded Lakers were now left with bread crumbs of a roster, with only Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher as recognizable names (wait, there’s Kwame Brown hahahaha) in the lineup. I laughed at Kobe’s failure, karma for “raping” a girl back in 2003 (which actually he didn’t do, according to the girl now), karma for all the hearts he broke during the dynasty years.
The span of 2004-2007, I’ve seen a lot of improvement from Kobe, yes, I still see him as a ball hog, but as a scorer, he was getting better, impossible shot after impossible shot. His game-winner against the Phoenix Suns in 2006 was one for the ages.
Kobe’s game tying and game winning shot vs Phoenix Game 4
By 2007, I started admiring Kobe, watching him every time the Lakers were on TV was something, it was like watching Michael Jordan if he was a ball hog (oops). Kobe was like a 50-point game waiting to happen–after all, he had an 81-point performance years back against the Raptors. By 2008, Kobe, Phil Jackson, and the Lakers found the right formula. After a timely trade that gave them Pau Gasol, the Lakers were once again serious contenders. Kobe and Gasol conspired to lead the Lakers all the way to the NBA Finals, only to go down in 6 games against the Celtics. Kobe also won his only MVP award at the end of the season. By 2009, he once again led his Lakers to the Finals, this time against the Orlando Magic. After watching Shaq get his championship with Miami in 2006, Kobe finally got one. I remember that I was in Bohol at the time he won his championship. To this day, I haven’t seen Game 5, but I was happy for him.
The Black Mamba getting his 4th NBA Title and his first NBA Finals MVP.
Bryant’s successful 2009 campaign led to another memorable 2010. With Pau Gasol, the Lakers ran through the West and met the Boston Celtics for the 2nd time in 3 years in the NBA Finals and boy, what a series it was. In a gritty Game 7, the Lakers erased a 13-point deficit to beat Boston. Kobe won another one. I don’t know if I should be happy since I wanted the Celtics to win one again, but then again, even with bad shooting, Kobe found ways to contribute, scoring 23, getting 15 boards and 13 dimes.
Kobe celebrating his 5th championship
I actually remember 2 days before Game 7, someone was asking for an off swap, my Friday off in exchange for her Sunday off. Game 7 happened on a Friday morning in the Philippines. She was asking if she can have my Friday, I told her no, I wanted to watch Game 7. She then replied I can watch the replay, I told her NOOOOOOOOO and left.
For the Laker franchise, 2010 was their last appearance in the NBA Finals with Kobe. Burnout for playing in 3 consecutive Finals set in or maybe perhaps they met the much hungrier Dallas Mavericks (who won in 2011) in the 2nd round. In 2011, the Laker Nation bid goodbye to the Kobe-Phil Jackson partnership.
In the waning years of his career, we still saw Kobe being competitive, we still saw Kobe making impossible shots after impossible shots. By this time, I was a Kobe fan (not a Laker fan, a Kobe fan). But his injuries late in his career robbed us of the chance of seeing him in full strength and Dwight Howard’s laziness robbed the Lakers organization and its fans of a trip to the NBA Finals, and yes, I have to add Mike D’Antoni’s dimwit coaching also robbed the Lakers of a chance of winning every game.
Come November of 2015, Kobe announced his retirement. He said he would retire by season’s end. The basketball world was in a somber moment, as one of the best players, if not the greatest, of this generation bids goodbye. Kobe even wrote a poem entitled Dear Basketball. Read it here.
Well, there go my memories of Kobe. In ending this piece, I want to tell all my readers, all 10 of you, that Kobe is perhaps the next best thing to Michael Jordan. No, that doesn’t make Kobe better than Jordan. Jordan will always be Jordan, he will never be touched, ever or at least for now. But aside from the moves Kobe copied from His Airness, those fadeaways, dunks, even free throws, Kobe’s qualities that make him the closest thing to MJ in this generation are his competitiveness, his attitude, his abominable will and never- give-up attitude. Hey, he could have left the Lakers and gone to another team after his team sucked balls from 2004-2007 but he didn’t. I guess that’s what separates him from a guy I’d rather not mention. Kobe is truly like MJ, Bird, Magic, Bill Russell, and other legends of the game. One of a kind. Thank you, Kobe.
Kobe’s last game highlights